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Winemaker's Journal — Thomsen's Custom Meats

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A great red wine screams out for a great steak. I found just the place to get one while traveling the Cascade Loop this summer for an upcoming Foothills magazine story. Thomsen's Custom Meats in Twisp is a great place to find that perfectly marbled and aged rib steak. The shop is well aged itself. A stop can take you back a bit in time.

Chris Thomsen realized a childhood dream when he and his wife, Diana, purchased the Methow Valley Meat Co. six years ago.

Renamed Thomsen's Custom Meats, the 80-year-old slaughterhouse has quite a history. As a child, Thomsen used to fish with his family in a spot on the Methow River known as Slaughterhouse Hole. He remembers looking up a the mysterious old concrete building and thinking how it might merge with his future.

"I've been wanting to buy this place since I was 12 years old," he said. That was long before he had any idea he would become a butcher, which he did about 25 years ago.

Thomsen is well known for his meat cutting talent in the Methow Valley. He worked for Hank's Market in Twisp for 14 years before taking over the meat market at Red Apple Market in Winthrop, which he ran for five years.

His dream of owning his own custom meat shop took on added responsibility when he bought the historic old meat processing building at 992 Twisp-Carlton Rd.

He made upgrades to the shop to cut his own steaks, chops and roasts, smoke meats and jerky and make a wide selection of fresh and smoked sausages. The meats are sold retail from his storefront and wholesale to many restaurants and markets. The store specializes in several varieties of jerky and sausages, which are made in the shop every day. Locally raised meat is used whenever possible.

"People are getting very concerned about what they eat and where it comes from," Thomsen said.

Thomsen also does custom meat cutting and wrapping for local ranchers and those who raise animals for food. During hunting seasons, deer, elk and other game are cut and wrapped for sportsmen. The wild game side of the business is overseen by the Thomsens' son, Seth. Between 400 and 1,000 animals are processed each year.

Little by little, Thomsen has been renovating the old building and its cavernous chambers. Back rooms are still equipped with overhead cranes and transport rails that moved beef carcasses through the slaughterhouse and into cold storage. Thousands of animals were processed there each year — about 40 or 50 a day — through the mid-1900s.

Another gruesome-looking contraption dumped hog carcasses into a scalding tank for dehairing. Giant power saws and axes sit with other relics. The plant supplied Safeway stores with meat until the 1960s and many other stores for decades before, Thomsen said.

A separate wild game cutting room and truck-size smoker were added in the 1940s and is still in use.

"It's nice to have a place to process the local animals. There aren't many places like this anymore," he said.

Thomsen doesn't know if he'll be able to restore and use the entire building, but loves the sense of history it preserves.

"It's an old building but it's all concrete. Everything still works and It's not going anywhere," he said.

This is one of a series of stories Rick Steigmeyer found while traveling the Cascade Loop this summer for a story in Foothills magazine. For more information about the Loop and its many offerings, check out the website